Friday, August 10, 2012

Shame on America Magazine (and all of us really..)

Sorry, not gonna sing the praises of this latest article...
I am a reader of America magazine, the national Catholic weekly put out by the Jesuits. I appreciate the international perspective, as well as many of the stories. As long as I overlook some of the subtle (and not so subtle) jabs at hierarchy, I find it an interesting read, even though I don’t always agree with the angles the writers take.

This week America came out with an online article about me. Well, not really about me, but about all women who are joining religious orders around the country. The article was based on an analysis of the CARA study, conducted in 2009, of religious vocations in the US.

The results of the study have been used by many on both sides of the divide within the Church. The “progressive” side argues that the study’s results are given the wrong twist. The “traditional” side practically sings and does touch down dances because it looks like the younger generations actually do value such archaic things as habits and hierarchy.

America magazine added their voice to this already delightful chorus with their summary of the article which was posted on their blog:

“Overall, of all the women entering religious orders these days, roughly half choose progressive groups, and roughly half choose traditional groups.”

When I read this sentence I felt indignant. As I made my way to chapel yesterday for evening prayer my indignation grew and I spent some time thinking about why I felt this way.

In the end, I realized that not only was this a misrepresentation of the data, but it leads people to somehow believe that women who are discerning are aware of this ugly, political underbelly of Catholic life and are joining congregations that are part of the LCWR because they are throwing their lot in with the “progressives” of the Church, or vice versa. Hence, the inferred conclusion of America’s assessment of the situation: Women joining religious orders are divided just like the faithful within Church, (and the citizens of the US).

If you read the study, it shows that men and women join religious orders primarily because of the spiritual life. 91% considered this “Somewhat” or “Very Important.” In other words, people join orders because they are attracted to the charism and special spirituality of that order within the Church. This is the Holy Spirit at work. Finding a congregation is like finding a spouse. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a family, (and like all families there is some dysfunction no matter where you go). 

Finally, perhaps the most relevant finding of the study to the America magazine article: 70% of respondents either answered that they were “Somewhat” or “Very Much” attracted to their institute because of fidelity to the Church. It is interesting to note, that women who consider fidelity to the Church to be important, but have joined an institute in which this is an issue, would not have answered “Somewhat” or “Very Important” because they would have joined despite the institute’s issues with fidelity.

If we look at this statistic generationally, it is even more startling. 68% of the youngest generation joining religious life, the Millenials, answered that fidelity to the Church was “Very Much” important. This number does not include the “Somewhat” respondents and again, this does not include men and women who may have joined orders despite issues of fidelity.

This is not exactly the reality that the America article suggests.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not doing a touch down dance and saying, “I told you so.” I'm not joining that chorus of voices. I, along with many of these young men and women, do not value fidelity to the Church because we are crusty traditionalists who like to engage in war with progressives. We care about social justice, and so-called progressive issues, but we also care about the Church. We value the authority of the Church because we live in a time of relativism. We see, consciously or unconsciously, that authority and hierarchy are needed gifts of God to the Church. We have seen the scandals in the Church, but we also see the difference between God-given authority and human fallibility.

Our ability to see these things is not political, it is inspired.

If America magazine, and others, do not want to recognize this reality in some of the most committed younger generations of the Church, that is their choice. 

But to both the "right" and the "left" in this seriously off-pitch chorus of voices:

Please leave the good men and women joining religious congregations out of this political bickering and not so subtle jabs at other “sides” within the Church. We love Jesus, we love the Church and we love all of you. But we do not love this bickering.

Here’s to hoping new generations of Catholics will be able to see the need to move beyond this tiresome division that must sadden Jesus so much.


faithbeyondwords said...

I am a 25 year old woman who was in religious life with the Salesian Sisters and has left for a time to discern and heal, but plans to re-enter the same congregation in a few years.

I know many people, good friends at that, who have entered religious life looking for the habit, fidelity to the church, wishing to live their charism to the best that they can.

There is something absolutely beautiful in seeing a sister in habit living life married to Jesus. Many of my friends called to marriage see it the same way. As a matter of fact, a couple of my married friends say they would have worn the habit if relgious life had been their call. :)

There is simply something beautiful immersed in the traditions of the church. I don't like what is being implied by this article you speak about. Thank you for your reflections.

tagnes said...

Fathbeyondwords - You are so right, religious life is beautiful and there are so many men and women with good hearts choosing to follow Jesus. Your discernment and healing will be in my prayers.

Maria said...

Hooray for this commentary, Sister. To what order do you belong?

Anonymous said...

Well said Sister....thank you for all you do!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your viewpoint. I was in formation eight years ago with a traditional order in the Northeast. It was a life-changing experience, but not in the way I expected. I learned that there is a lot of unhappiness, dysfunction and immaturity behind those smiles, and not a lot of opportunity to grow. Were there healthy vocations? Of course, but much competition, covert aggression, need for attention. I did not find it to be a healthy environment overall. I pray for all women who desire to draw closer to Christ in religious life. Time will tell if the more traditional orders yield healthy and lasting vocations.
Lynn Annette

tagnes said...

@Maria - I am a prenovice with the Daughters of St Paul!

@Lynn - I am so sorry that you had a bad experience with an order. Like I mentioned in my post, orders are like families with varying degrees of dysfunction. Some are much more dysfunctional than others. I have friends who have joined and left orders that had serious problems.

I think that this is not related to traditional versus progressive, however. Dysfunction will display itself differently in different environments but it is present everywhere, even in the healthiest of orders because we will always be human!

That being said, I do not minimize in any way what you experienced, and I pray that orders with particularly unhealthy dynamics will wake up and see the need for change, because it can do serious damage to the spiritual lives of young women who are trying to follow God.

God bless you Lynn, you will be in my prayers.

Maria said...

Tagnes--How wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I can almost hear Maestra Paula cheering you on from Heaven....she was a STAUNCH advocate of obedience to the Church and to the Holy Father. I don't ever remember any of her meditations deviating from this point. She was well aware what was coming down the road with all this bickering and did her best to keep her Daughters on the right path. I don't think she'd be hip to the way the DSP habit has changed, but it does seem her spirit is still alive in well even in the 'young ones' Good luck with your vocation.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Whst are wonderful contribution to the division in our church! You must feel so proud!

I too am wondering about what the expression " fidelity to the church" means. Is it code for some religious orders are better than others?

tagnes said...

@Anonymous#1 - Thank you! I am grateful to our founder and Mother Thecla for our mission in this beautiful order, and the charism of St Paul in the world. It is a beautiful life.

I am not sure what Maestra Paula would have thought of our habit changes. I believe wearing a habit is important to our charism of evangelization, but I am not sure the style is of the utmost importance.

@Anonymous#2 - By pointing out the truth that the younger generations value fidelity to the Church, I am not denigrating specific religious orders. I respect and admire all men and women who have given their lives to Jesus.

I was simply pointing out that the younger generations have one value that unites them and that is faithfulness to the Church. I believe that amid division in the Church, this younger generation is a sign of hope. Despite differences in charisms, values and ideas, we believe our Church unites us in the One Body of Christ.

I, like many of the other men and women joining religious life, consider everyone in the Church my brothers and sisters, no matter whether they agree with Church teaching or not. But the simple reality is that we value this and I believe it is a sign of hope for the future.

Peace to you,